Crisis of Confidence? Not at Your PR Firm.

by Mike Muraszko, Partner

My SGP colleagues and I speak with PR agency principals around the U.S. on a daily basis. As you’d expect, most recent conversations haven’t been focused on “sky-is-the-limit” optimism, sustained and steady growth, or record margins. Most agency heads instead talk about weathering the present economic meltdown, working feverishly to maintain their current client base and budgets, and competing for new business more intensely than ever before.

While few would deny the severity of the global financial crisis that has cast a painful domino impact on the entire ad and marketing services sector, PR firm management, too, needs to guard against becoming part of the general “crisis of confidence” that presently holds many Americans captive. The solutions to our Wall Street, banking, and automotive industry calamities appear to be systemic and will require difficult, long term, no-holes-barred, solutions. To say the Obama Administration has its work cut out for it is an understatement.

I was chatting with a PR agency president here on the West Coast last week and he shared his thoughts with me about the present state of affairs. “I don’t have time to worry about the fate of my business in these tough times. As I always have, I determine my own fate and success everyday when I counsel a client, approve a marketing expenditure, or hire and retain a great employee.” He went on the say, “I don’t mean to over-simplify, but if you dwell on today’s harsh business reality, you lose sight of the solutions.” Frankly, I believe his comments are very much on the mark, and for me the conversation sparked several take-aways consistent with what SGP and savvy agency execs have been advocating. Among these are:

– Observe financial discipline. It should, ideally, be standard practice in both good and recessionary times. It pays dividends regardless of economic conditions. As SGP managing partner Rick Gould puts it “Manage by benchmarking. Manage by the numbers.” It’s your first line of defense in getting your agency through this recession.

– Service, service, and service. The core strategy in the present environment is keeping the current client. As Launch Squad ( partner and co-founder Jason Mandell has noted, enhance services, innovate, and stay relevant. Said Mandell in the 01-14-09 issue of The Firm Voice, “The temptation is to go back to your bread and butter, to hunker down, and not invest. That’s a big mistake… If your agency doesn’t stay fresh during the recession, you’ll have to play catch up during the recovery.” And the recovery will surely come!

– Treat your people well – now more than ever! This is a trying time for many on multiple levels – financial, professional, and personal. Make sure you’re totally in synch with your star performers too. Be up front also about the challenges your agency may face, but reject use of scare tactics. You’re a team that’s in this together. And as Coyne PR ( president Tom Coyne commented in the 01-14-09 The Firm Voice edition “Don’t forget to be a leader. And don’t forget to show the firm you’ve been through this before: Reassure them that you do have a plan for the downturn – and make sure you do have a plan.”

Let’s face the facts. The unraveling of the U.S. and global economies over the last 12 months has been unnerving. And there’s likely more bad news to come before we hit bottom. Confident about your agency’s future? Maximize your affirmative response to that question by maximizing the above and other best practices.